If there was one thing that Mahatma Gandhi did not like, it was war. The activist contributed to India’s independence in 1947 without firing a gun. It is difficult to imagine a parallel universe in which the pacifist would use nuclear weapons to decimate a country’s population and conquer new territories. But that universe exists, and it’s called Civilization.
Let’s go from the beginning. Sid Meier’s Civilization is a computer game in which the objective is to build a civilization and make it prosper. The Obama candidate must deal with other rising civilizations, which are commanded by the game’s artificial intelligence. These other peoples always have a leader, like Napoleon Bonaparte in the case of France, Otto Von Bismarck in the case of Germany and Mahatma Gandhi in the case of India.
Each of them has different interests and personalities, usually based on real historical figures. You can make alliances with other countries, but sometimes you have to go to war. And since the game was released, several players have begun to report that one of the most aggressive countries is Gandhi’s India.
Where’s the historical accuracy there? The “Nuclear Gandhi” (due to his preference for using the most destructive weapons known to mankind) has become one of the strangest and most famous bugs in the gaming world.
The first version of the game, released in 1991, would be considered rudimentary today, but it was one of the most advanced strategy games of the time. Each leader already started with a pre-established level of aggression, which could vary from 1 to 10 depending on the personality of the historical figure. Gandhi, as you can imagine, always started with 1 in aggression.
As the game progressed, leaders chose the model of government they want to adopt (monarchy, oligarchy, theocracy, etc.). India always goes for democracy. Any state that adopts democracy receives a -2 decrease in the level of aggression, as this is the most peaceful model of government.
It turns out that India only has 1 in aggression. With the decrease, it gets -1, but that level does not exist in the game. It has been programmed to range from 1 to 256, the highest possible level of aggression. The computer then interprets India’s level as 256 minus 1, and throws Gandhi to absurd 255 aggression.
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In the progression of the game, democracy is adopted at the same time when nuclear technology is developed. Then you’ve seen it. Gandhi falls in love with nuclear weapons and India goes from peaceful country to warlike power in just a few moves.
The programmers seem to have liked the irony and kept Gandhi aggressive in the following versions of the game as an easter egg, even though the bug no longer exists. The latest version (Sid Meier’s Civilization 6) was released in 2016, and even today new players are surprised by the behavior of the Indian leader.
It is an instant meme, which made the story popular for more than 20 years. And although it is a fact that Gandhi of Civilization is much more violent than that of real life, new information provided by the game’s creator shows that (get ready for a plot twist) the whole bug is just a legend.
The game is named after its creator, Sid Meier. In September 2020, he released an autobiography entitled Sid Meier`s Memoir! – A Life in Computer Games. And that was when the most fun bug of all went down the drain.
In the first game, India was just as likely to use nuclear weapons as any other country. It turns out that this behavior was very strange coming from one of the greatest pacifists in history. “The idea of the game was that every leader has a limit. It is also true that Gandhi used to threaten the player, but this is because his main characteristic was avoid war – and the idea of mutual destruction is an effective way to do that, ”Meier writes.
The creator also says the game was very simple at that time, and that all the leaders had the same script that you read up there. But, when Gandhi says he is “supported by nuclear weapons”, the player certainly pays more attention.
And where did the bug story come from? Probably from the players themselves. But the narrative has spread so far over the years that it was taken for granted until the book’s publication date. In addition, the programmers did in fact put the easter egg on the next versions of the game – just to reinforce the popular legend.
In the most recent versions, Gandhi is usually peaceful and does not declare war on the player unless provoked. However, if that happens, he has a preference for using nuclear weapons. In Civilization 6, some leaders have “ulterior motives”. And the second intentions of the Indian leader are precisely the fascination with nuclear weapons.
“Given the limited technology of the time, the original game was mostly in the players’ imagination,” wrote Meier in an email to PeopleMakeGames. Ultimately, the legend only shows how players play a crucial role in creating the game’s mythology. Nuclear Gandhi does exist – just not in the way fans have imagined.
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